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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 5. A Story And A Disappearance
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Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 5. A Story And A Disappearance Post by :Linda_Wells Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3088

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Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 5. A Story And A Disappearance


'Perhaps I ought to begin by informing you,' said Camilla Payne, 'that I have known Mr. Francis Tudor for about two years. Always he has been very nice to me. Once he asked me to marry him--quite suddenly--it was a year ago. I refused because I didn't care for him. I then saw nothing of him for some time. But after I entered your service here, he came across me again by accident. I did not know until lately that he had one of your flats. He was very careful, very polite, timid, cautious--but very obstinate, too. He invited me to call on him at his rooms, and to bring any friends I liked. Of course, it was a stupidity on his part, but, then, what else could he do? A man who wants to cultivate relations with a homeless shopgirl is rather awkwardly fixed.'

'I wish to Heaven you would not talk like that, Miss Payne!' said Hugo, interrupting her impatiently.

'I am merely telling you these things so that you may understand my position,' Camilla coldly replied. 'Do you imagine that I am amusing myself?'

'Go on, go on, I beg,' he urged, with a gesture of apology.

'Naturally, I declined the invitation. Then next I received a letter from him, in which he said that unless I called on him, or agreed to meet him in some place where we could talk privately and at length, he should kill himself within a week. And he added that death was perhaps less to him than I imagined. I believed that letter. There was something about it that touched me.'

'And so you decided to yield?'

'I did yield. I felt that if I was to trust him at all, I might as well trust him fully, and I called at his flat this afternoon alone. He was evidently astonished to see me at that hour, so I explained to him that you had closed early for some reason or other.'

'Exactly,' said Hugo.

He insisted on giving me tea. I was treated, in fact, like a princess; but during tea he said nothing to me that might not have been said before a roomful of people. After tea he left me for a few moments, in order, as he said, to give some orders to his servants. Up till then he had been extremely agitated, and when he returned he was even more agitated. He walked to and fro in that lovely drawing-room of his--just as you were doing here not long since. I was a little afraid.'

'Afraid of what?' demanded Hugo.

'I don't know--of him, lest he might do something fatal, irretrievable; something--I don't know. And then, being alone with him in that palace of a place! Well, he burst out suddenly into a series of statements about himself, and about his future, and his intentions, and his feelings towards me. And these statements were so extraordinary and so startling that I could not think he had invented them. I believed them, as I had believed in the sincerity of his threat to kill himself if I would not listen to him.'

'And what were they--these statements?' Hugo inquired.

Camilla waved aside the interruptions, and continued: '"Now," he said, "will you marry me? Will you marry me now?"'

She paused and glanced at Hugo, who observed that her eyes were filling with tears.

'And then?' murmured Hugo soothingly.

'Then I agreed to marry him.'

And with these words she cried openly.

'If anyone had told me beforehand,' she resumed, 'that I should be so influenced by a man's--a man's acting, I would have laughed. But I was--I was. He succeeded completely.'

'You have not said what these extraordinary statements were,' Hugo insisted.

'Don't ask me,' she entreated, drying her eyes. 'It is enough that I was hoodwinked. If you have had no hand in this plot, don't ask me. I am too ashamed, too scornful of my credulity, to repeat them. You would laugh.'

'Should I?' said Hugo, smiling gravely. 'What occurred next?'

'The next step was that Mr. Tudor asked me to accompany his housekeeper to the housekeeper's room, and on the other side of the passage from the drawing-room I was to dine with him. The housekeeper is a Mrs. Dant, a kind, fat, lame old woman, and she produced this cloak and this hat, and so on, and said that they were for me! I was surprised, but I praised them and tried them on for a moment. You must remember that I was his affianced wife. I talked with Mrs. Dant, and prepared myself for dinner, and then I went back to the drawing-room, and found Mr. Tudor ready for dinner. I asked him why he had got the clothes, and he said he had got them this very morning merely on the chance of my accepting his proposal out of pity for him. And I believed that, too.'

There was a silence.

'But that is not the end?' Hugo encouraged her.

'Oh,' she exclaimed, 'it is useless, all this story! And the episode is finished! When I came in here I was angry; I suspect you of some complicity. But I suspect you no longer, and I see now that the wisest course for a woman such as I after such an adventure is to be mute about it, and to forget it.'

'No,' he said; 'you are wrong. Trust me. I entreat.'

Camilla bit her lip.

'We went into the dining-room, and dinner was served,' she recommenced, 'and there I had my first shock, my first doubt, for one of the two waiters was your spy.'

'Shawn! My detective!'

Hugo was surprised to find that Albert, almost a novice in his vocation, had contrived to be so insinuating.

'And he made a very bad waiter indeed,' Camilla added.

'I regret it,' said Hugo. 'He meant well.' 'When the waiters had gone I asked Mr. Tudor if they were his own servants. He hesitated, and then admitted frankly that they were not. He told me that his servants were out on leave for the evening. "You don't mean to say that I am now alone with you in the flat!" I protested. "No," he said quickly. "Mrs. Dant is always in her room across the passage. Don't be alarmed, dearest." His tone reassured me. After coffee, he took my photograph by flashlight. He printed one copy at once, and then, after we had both been in the dark-room together, he returned there to get some more printing-paper. While he was absent I went into the housekeeper's room for a handkerchief which I had left there. Mrs. Dant was not in the room. But in a mirror I saw the reflection of a man hiding behind the door. I was awfully frightened. However, I pretended to see nothing, and tried to hum a song. I same into the passage. The passage window was open, and I looked out. Another man was watching on the balcony. Of course, I saw instantly it was a plot. I--I--'

'Did you recognise the men, then?' Hugo asked.

'The one in the room I was not quite sure of. The other, on the balcony, was your detective, I think. I saw him disappear in this direction.'

'But whatever the plot was, Shawn had no hand in it.'

'No, no, of course not! I see now. But the other, in the room! Ah, if you knew all my history, you would understand better! I felt that some vengeance was out against me. I saw everything clearly. I tried to keep my head, and to decide calmly what I ought to do. It was from a little table in the passage that I picked up the revolver. Then I heard hurried footsteps coming through the drawing-room towards the passage. It was Mr. Tudor. He seemed very startled. I tried to appear unconcerned. "What is the matter?" he asked; he had gone quite pale. "Nothing," I said. "I only went to fetch a handkerchief." He laughed uneasily. "I was afraid you had thought better of it and run away from me," he said. And he kissed me; I was obliged to submit. All this time I was thinking hard what to do. I suggested we should go on to the roof garden for awhile. He objected, but finally he gave way, and he brought me the cloak and hat, and we went to the garden and sat down. I felt safer there. At last I ventured to tell him that I must go home. Of course, he objected to that too, but he gave way a second time. "I will just speak to Mrs. Dant," I said. "You stay here for three minutes. By that time I shall be ready." And I went off towards the flat, but as soon as I was out of his sight I turned and ran here. And that's all.'

'You are a wonderful creature,' Hugo murmured, looking at her meditatively.

'Why?' The question was put with a sort of artless and melancholy surprise.

'How can I tell?' said Hugo. 'How can I tell why Heaven made you so?'

She laughed, and the laugh enchanted him. He had studied her during her recital; he had observed her continual effort to use ordinary words and ordinary tones like a garment to hide vivid sensations and emotions which, however, shone through the garment as her face might have shone through a veil.

He recalled her little gestures, inflections, glances--the thousand avenues by which her rich and overflowing individuality escaped from the prison of her will, and impressed itself on the rest of the created universe. Her story was decidedly singular, and as mysterious as it was singular; that something sinister would be brought to light, he felt sure. But what occupied and charmed his mind was the exquisite fact that between him and her relations were now established. The story, her past danger, even her possible future danger--these things only interested him in so far as they formed the basis of an intimacy. He exulted in being near her, in the savour of her commanding presence. When he thought of her in his monstrous shop, wilting in the heat, bowing deferentially to fools, martyrizing her soul for less than two pounds a week, he thought of kings' daughters sold into slavery. But she was a princess now, and for evermore, and she had come to him of her own free will; she had trusted him; she had invited his help! It was glorious beyond the dreams of his passion.

'Come,' he said feverishly, 'show me how you managed to get to my dome.'

And he threw open the easternmost window, and she stepped with him out on to the balcony.

They looked down across Hugo's little private garden, into the blackness of the court of fountains, whose balconies were vaguely disclosed here and there by the reflection from lit interiors. On the other side of the deep pit of the court was the vast expanse of flat roof containing the famous roof garden. Amid dwarf trees and festoons of coloured lights, the figures of men and women who counted themselves the cream of London could dimly be seen walking about or sitting at tables; and the wild strain of the Tsigane musicians, as they swayed to and fro in their red coats on the bandstand, floated towards the dome through the heavy summer air. In the near distance the fantastic shapes of chimney-cowls raised themselves against the starry but moonless sky, and miles away the grandiose contours of a dome far greater than Hugo's--the dome of St. Paul's--finished the prospect in solemn majesty. It was a scene well calculated to intensify a man's emotions, especially when a man stands to view it, as Hugo stood, on a lofty balcony, with a beautiful and loved woman by his side.

She was indicating pathways, as well as she could, when they both saw a man hurrying in the direction of the dome along by the roof-balustrade of the court of fountains--the route by which Camilla herself had come. He arrived under the dome, and would have disappeared into a doorway had not Hugo called:

'Shawn, I'm here!'

'I was just coming to see you, sir,' replied Albert Shawn in a loud whisper, as he climbed breathless up to the little raised garden beneath the dome.

Camilla withdrew behind a curtain of the window.

'Well?' Hugo queried.

'She's gone, sir. But dashed if I know where, unless she's got herself lost somewhere on the roof.'

'She is here,' said Hugo, lowering his voice. 'And it appears that you waited very clumsily at that dinner, my boy. A bad disguise is worse than none. I must lend you Gaboriau's "Crime of Orcival" to read; that will teach you. Anything else to tell me?'

'I went back to the balcony entrance of the flat,' the youthful detective replied humbly, looking up to Hugo in the window of the dome. 'I could see through the lacework of the blind; the drawing-room was empty. The French window was open an inch or so, and I could hear a clock ticking as clear as a bell. Then Mr. Tudor toddled up, and I hid in the servants' doorway. Mr. Tudor went in by the other door, and out I popped again to my post. I see my gentleman stamping about and calling "Camilla! Camilla!" fit to burst. No answer. Then he picks up a photograph off a table and kisses it smack--twice.'

Camilla stirred behind the curtain.

'Then he goes into another room,' proceeded Albert Shawn, 'and lo and behold! another man comes from round the corner of a screen--a man much older than Mr. Tudor! And Mr. Tudor runs in again, and these two meet--these two do. And they stare at each other, and Mr. Tudor says, "Hullo, Louis--"'

'I knew it!' The cry came from Camilla within the dome.

'What?' demanded Hugo, turning to her and ignoring Shawn.

'It was Louis Ravengar whom I saw hiding behind the door. I felt all the time that it was he!'

And she put her hands to her face.

'Ravengar!' He was astounded to hear that name. What had she, what had Tudor, to do with Ravengar?

'That was why I thought _you were in the plot, Mr. Hugo,' she added.

'Me? Why?'

'Can you ask?'

Her eyes met his, and it was his that fell.

'I have no relations whatever with Ravengar, I assure you,' he said gravely. 'But, by the dagger! I'll see this affair to the end.' 'By the dagger' was a form of oath, meaningless yet terrible in sound, which Hugo employed only on the greatest occasions. He turned sharply to the window. 'Anything else, Shawn?'

'There was a gust of wind that shut the blessed window, sir. I couldn't hear any more, so I came to report.'

'Go to the front entrance of the flat instantly,' Hugo ordered him. 'I will watch the balcony.'

'Yes, sir.'

Camilla was crouching in the embrasure of the window. Her body seemed to shake.

'There is nothing to fear,' Hugo soothed her. 'Stay here till I return.' And he snatched up the revolver.

'No,' she said, straightening herself; 'I must go with you.'

'Better not.'

'I must go with you,' she repeated.

They passed together along the railed edge of the court of fountains under the stars, skirted the gay and melodious garden behind the trees in their huge wooden boxes, and so came to a second quadrangle, upon whose highest story the windows of Tudor's flat gave. Descending a stairway of forged iron to the balcony, they crept forward in silence to the window of Tudor's drawing-room, and, still side by side, gazed, as Shawn had done, through the fine lacework of the blind into the splendid apartment.

The window was almost at a corner of the room, near a door; but Hugo had a perfect view of the two men within, and one was as certainly Louis Ravengar as the other was Francis Tudor. They were gesticulating violently and angrily, and a heavy, ornate Empire chair had already been overturned. The dispute seemed to be interminable; each moment heralded a fight, but it is the watched pot that never boils. Suddenly Hugo became aware that Camilla was no longer at his elbow, and the next instant, to his extreme amazement, he saw her glide into the room. She had removed her hat and cloak, and stood revealed in all her beauty. The two men did not perceive her. She softly opened the window, and the confused murmur of voices reached Hugo's ear.

'Give me the revolver,' Camilla whispered.

And her whisper was such that he passed the weapon, as it were hypnotically, to her under the blind. And then the blind slipped down, and he could see no more. He heard a shot, and the next thing was that the revolver was pushed back to him, nearly at the level of the floor.

'Wait there!' The sound of her voice, tense and authoritative, came through the slit of the window and thrilled him. 'All is well now, but I will send you a message.'

And the window was swiftly closed and a curtain drawn behind the blind. He could hear nothing.

He had small intention of obeying her. 'She must have gone in by the servants' entrance,' he argued. 'I should have seen her if she had tried the other.' And he ran to the small door, but it was shut fast. In vain he knocked and shook the handle for several minutes. Then he hastened to the main door on the broad balcony, but that also was impregnable.

Should he break a pane?

A noise far along the balcony attracted him. He flew towards it, found nothing but a cat purring, and returned. The luscious music of the Tsigane band, one of the nine orchestras which he owned, reached him faintly over the edge of the quadrangle.

Then he decidedly did hear human footsteps on the balcony. They were the footsteps of Shawn.

'She's gone, sir. Took the lift, and whizzed off in Mr. Tudor's electric brougham that was waiting.'

'And the men?' he gasped.

'Seen neither of them, sir. She put this note in my hand as she passed me, sir.'

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